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Change at Dukes ‘is modernisation’

WITHIN six weeks of buying Dukes Hotel in London, David Naylor-Leyland, owner of Egerton House and the Franklin Hotel, has brought modern staffing principles to the traditional St James’s property, formerly owned by Cunard Hotels.

Mr Naylor-Leyland told Caterer last week that he came to the hotel with preconceived ideas – some of which he maintained were correct and some of which he has since changed.

Staff changes have already happened. Rumours that Mr Naylor-Leyland has got rid of most of his new employees are not true. There are, he said, still many of them running around. “Staff changes have improved the quality of service. We have also taken away staff who served staff, such as the two waiters in the staff canteen.”

Standard and traditional lines of demarcation in job responsibility have been cut out. “We’re dragging this hotel, kicking and squealing, into the 21st century. People will have to combine a number of jobs. When we first asked them to do it we were told it was impossible and people would leave. But that hasn’t happened.”

One of Mr Naylor-Leyland’s most controversial decisions was to close down the concierge department. But that doesn’t mean Dukes has no concierge facility.

“There was a situation in the hotel where the guest, on arrival, was greeted by a well-educated, attractive young reception person. During the stay the guest only had contact with a poorly educated, overcharging concierge desk.

“The guest builds up a relationship with this man and trusts him implicitly. Then on the last day the guest is presented with a bill by the reception desk staff who are unknown to him.

“So we are trying to get all these jobs done by the one department. We have also got the cost of a car to Heathrow down from £50 to £26, and reduced the cost of theatre tickets and other events.

“We are not interested in making a profit on these things. We are giving the people on the front desk an opportunity to build up a relationship with guests. It makes their job more interesting and as a result we are able to employ a higher calibre of people, which in turn improves the quality of service to guests.

“There is a powerful lobby in the hotel industry which is trying to stop what I’m doing. It is controversial but I don’t hide what I’m doing.”

Another operation to be cut was the hall porter area. Under its previous management, one man opened the front door, another took the guest’s coat and a third watched them do it.

Now, there is just one man. He can call room service for help if several guests arrive at once.

Mr Naylor-Leyland said the hotel’s staffing was based on 100% occupancy, but it was also based on the “reasonable assumption” that not every guest would want, for example, room service at the same time.

Other changes at Dukes include the reduction in tariffs by 30% to a more realistic level and a planned re-fit of part of the building.

“The way the hotel has evolved makes it grossly inefficient to run. That impacts on the numbers of staff, morale of staff and the life of guests,” said Mr Naylor-Leyland.

The main changes to the hotel will be an improved dining room and lounge and a new kitchen for the chefs. Mr Naylor-Leyland reckoned it would take about two years to get the hotel up to the quality and mode of operation as his other two Knightsbridge hotels. By then, in 1996, he will be ready to buy another.

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